}

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Adventures In Advertising: Sometimes, Getting Fired Can Be A Good Thing


I heard a great story about a man being fired.

Several years ago, I met a person who told me the story about himself.  I loved it and thought I would share it with you.  I asked permission to identify the candidate, but he refused because he wanted the whole incident to be kept anonymous and confidential.

He was a young, recently graduated assistant account executive (let’s call him Mike).  He worked at a small, independent agency.  He had been there two years without a salary increase and his salary was way below what he could and should be making at any other New York City ad agency. At the time he was hired, the going salary for an assistant account executive just out of school was $32-37k, he was being paid $27k.  He reported directly to the chairman.

Then the agency hired a new director of account management.  The new director evaluated staffing needs and saw one account that could use a full time AAE.  He told the chairman that he wanted to take Mike and put him on an account.  The chairman approved.

When the senior account guy told Mike, he opened up to his new boss.  His family knew the chairman and he got hired during spring break, before his graduation.  It was a small agency with many major brand name accounts. It seems that for the two years he was there, the chairman used him mostly to do personal errands.  He had never been assigned to an account except for an occasional stint on a business to fill in for someone on vacation or to help on a new business pitch. 

It turned out that the account person was excellent, just not aggressive.  The client loved him and everything he did, he did well.  The new head of account management determined that he was better than most of the other juniors at the agency, so he went to the chairman and asked two things, first, why was he never given a raise and, second, he wanted the chairman to approve a $7k raise, to bring him more in line with the salaries paid by other New York agencies.  The chairman said he was hired as a favor to the parents and that everyone at the agency knew it.  He did not want to show any favoritism and would only approve a 5% increase - $1,350.  Apparently, the chairman and the senior account person (who, I was told, was an EVP) had a big argument.

The EVP told the AAE that he could only get him a 5% increase. The AAE was happy about the increase but unhappy about the amount.  So the head of account management, who really liked this account person, told him that he should look for a job in order to make a living wage; he offered to be a reference.  Shortly thereafter, when the assistant was still there, he told his boss that he was not having any luck with his job hunt.  Here is what happened next.

The EVP called a friend of his at a top five agency and told his friend the story.  The friend said he would see the AAE.  When it became clear that he would be getting the job, the EVP fired the account person (with a wink).  He gave the AAE the standard notice plus pay for his vacation.  It came out to about five week’s salary.  The AAE left, took a day off and started work as an account executive on a great account. The original agency never found out what happened.  The EVP apparently resigned shortly thereafter.

Within about seven years became a senior vice president – youngest at that agency – and then became an EVP when he changed jobs after almost twelve years. The candidate said he owed his own career to the EVP at his first agency.

Goes to show you can’t keep a good person down. Besides, if life deals  you lemons, make lemonade.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

How Human Resources Gets In The Way Of The Hiring Process


When I started recruiting almost 35 years ago, except for a few of the largest ad agencies, I could work directly with the hiring managers.  Dealing with them was faster and, for the most part, far more efficient than working with HR.  The reason for this is that, while most hiring managers did not know how to write a job spec, they could be questioned to determine who they were really looking for, what skills and attributes would drive the hiring process. During the process I got to know them well and was able to make placements quickly.

Over time, Human Resources departments expanded and took over the whole hiring function. As this started to happen, it became obvious to me that many HR people, especially at the larger companies, did not know or really understand their own culture or people. Often they refuse to tell recruiters essential information, such as who the hiring manager was.  And if I did find out who he/she was, HR would get angry with me if I called them to clarify the assignment.  In advertising, I discovered that many HR people had never seen their own agency’s creative reel and didn’t have a clue about their own accounts or culture. In one case I actually arranged for the HR person to spend a day with a senior account manager since she did not know what an account person actually did.

(I received many assignments for someone to work on, say, General Mills, but the HR person actually did not know if the job was on cereal, food or snacks.  They often told me it didn’t matter.  The problem was that it did matter to the candidates and to me.  There is a difference between Pop Tarts and Cheerios. In fact, there is a difference between Cheerios and Cocoa Puffs – some candidates did not want to work on sugary cereals.)

I always asked what problems the hiring managers wanted solved.  I cannot tell you how many of HR people were annoyed with the question and vehemently told me that there were no problems. It became obvious that the worst of them wanted their recruiters to know as little as possible.  (No question that some on the corporate side were afraid of unscrupulous recruiters who would recruit their own people out. An ethical recruiter will never actively solicit people from their existing clients.)

Over the years, many senior executives have given me assignments that bypass HR.  I once had a confidential assignment to find a department head.  I was given the assignment by the agency president who made it clear I was not to discuss this with anyone, including human resources. I worked with the president for several months until we came up with a finalist.  As I was negotiating the terms with the finalist candidate, the HR director found out that I had this assignment.  She angrily called me to complain that I should have called her and told her; we had worked together successfully for several years.  I told her that since the job was confidential, between myself and the president, I could not have done that.  Then she actually confronted the president.  A major argument ensued. This HR person actually resigned her position (the president told me she would have been terminated anyway.  (The HR person moved to another ad agency and would never return my calls.)

Sadly, in advertising, HR is primarily defined as recruiting (or benefits) and most people in that department learned their jobs and functions with no real training.  And, as I have written before, the HR function goes way beyond recruiting.

That is not to say that there aren’t some excellent, professional human resources practitioners. In fact, there is excellent higher training in the HR world. It is called SPHR or Senior Professional of Human Resources; the step below is just PHR; these designations require a lot of study and work to achieve, but they generally mean a well-trained HR person.  There are also many HR people who just naturally “get it” without formal training. 

The real problem is that in advertising and marketing (and probably in other fields) many executives are promoted into human resources from other departments, often because these executives really want to help people.  Unfortunately, they learn HR through on-the-job training, mostly from people in the department who also don’t know their jobs either. The result is that well-meaning people are trained to become ineffective.

On top of all this, more often than not we get assignments with incomplete information.  When we are sent job specs, most are merely a description of the job, rather than a complete guide describing the job and the skills that the appropriate candidate should have.  (A recruiter or another employee at the company should be able to read the specs and have a good idea, right from the get-go, of whom to look for.)

I used to do seminars at ad agencies on how to interview and hire efficiently (I actually did this as a 4A’s podcast). The syllabus for these seminars started with how to write an actionable job spec. I was generally asked to do these talks by the president or other senior executive.  Unfortunately, I was forced to stop when HR complained to their management that I was impinging on their job. The irony is that after preventing me from speaking, I cannot think of a single case where HR actually conducted classes for their managers. 

When negotiating, often many HR people cut recruiters out of the process.  Some will not discuss offers or allow the recruiter to make the offer; many refuse to send recruiters a copy of offer letters or other information.  (I can generally get this from the candidate directly). These actions are an indication that the HR people do not trust their recruiters.  The solution is, of course simple – use recruiters they trust.

To be clear, there are a number of HR people I have worked with for many, many years.  Others, not so much. The bottom line is that a good HR people simplify rather than complicate the process.


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Adventures In Advertising: The Most Expensive Client Dinner


This is one of my favorite family stories.  Back in the day, my dad and his brother had an agency. In those days it was called Lawrence C. Gumbinner (subsequently it became Gumbinner-North and then it was gobbled up by Interpublic).  Their biggest account was Tareyton cigarettes.  In the late 1950’s they spent, as I recall, about forty  million dollars to advertise the brand, making it a huge account, one of the biggest accounts in the country. (Remember, in those days agencies had about ten people per every million dollars in business – that meant four hundred people worked on the account.)

My dad and my uncle took the president of American Tobacco and his wife out for a luxurious dinner.  The dinner was at the now long defunct Forum of the Twelve Caesars.  Before I tell the story I have to explain the restaurant since there was nothing else like it before or since. The interior of the Forum was designed by a noteworthy architect and designer. It was opened by the Brody Company, which opened very elaborate restaurants at that time – including the Four Seasons.  At The Forum, the room won many awards for its grandeur.  Everything in it was themed along the lines of ancient Rome, including the wait staff uniforms, the menus and, of course, the food.. The table settings were immaculate and awesome; they included, salt and pepper cellars which were a sterling silver elephants with salt and  pepper on their backs. The room exuded power, wealth and opulence.  Caviar, which apparently was served often, came on a huge and elaborate ice sculpture which was wheeled to the table and then served elaborately (in those days a service of Beluga cost about $6 or $7).  Dinner, in those days, with wine, cost an unheard of $25 or so per person – an outrageous sum of money in the late 1950’s or early 60’s.  The food, the menu and the prices were extraordinary, probably the most expensive in the country.

They obviously had a wonderful dinner.  When the bill came, my father took it.  Instead of costing $150 or so, there was a $100 item on the bill, making it about $250 (to put it in perspective, this is equivalent to.over $1,800 in today's money)  My father called over the maître d’ and discretely asked what the outrageous item was.  The maître d’ whispered to my father and nodded in the direction of the client’s wife, “It is for the salt cellar which is in madam’s pocketbook.” My dad was floored but paid the bill without saying anything.

Knowing my dad, he spent the rest of the evening fuming. 

Shortly after arriving at the office the next day, my dad got a call from the president to thank him for the lovely dinner.  As my dad told me the story, he had no intention of saying anything about the salt cellar, but he was so angry it just came out; my father regretted saying anything since it was such a large and important account.  The president was gracious and apologized profusely. 

But, no kidding, about twenty minutes later, a messenger arrived with an envelope.  My dad opened it and found a personal check for $100.

Wow!
 
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